Psychology, Epistemology, and the Problem of the External World: Russell and Before

  • Gary Hatfield
Part of the History of Analytic Philosophy book series (History of Analytic Philosophy)


The epistemology and metaphysics of perception were central topics in early analytic philosophy. These topics are best known through the manifold discussions of sense data, sensibilia, and sensory qualities during the early decades of the twentieth century, which continued into the second half of the century (as in Swartz, 1965). In connection with the status of sense data, epistemo-logical questions arose concerning the fallibility and directness of perception. Taking the case of vision, which was primary, these questions concerned whether we are directly acquainted with the objects of vision — whatever they may be — or instead apprehend an extra-mental world through the mediation of sensations or sense data, as in a representative theory of perception. They also concerned the nature of the mental act through which we know perceptual objects. A run through the pages of Mind, the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, and Journal of Philosophy from 1900 to 1920 reveals that perceptual acts and their objects were central concerns of anglophone philosophy, engaging Moore and Russell, as well as other noted figures, including Samuel Alexander (1909–10), George Dawes Hicks (1912), and A. O. Lovejoy (1913).


Sense Data External World External Object External Reality Secondary Quality 
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